Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Damascus Gate

After tearing through Robert Stone's memoir Remembering the Sixties I was moved to pick up Damascus Gate once again, some eight years after I last tried it...

At my first attempt I was put off by the setting (Jerusalem) and the subject matter (religious manias of one sort or another). This was back in the days when I thought people were finally growing out of the need to believe in men with white beards sitting on clouds and all that hocus pocus. But I was wrong wasn't I? There are plenty of people for whom Jerusalem matters and plenty who seem quite willing to kill their fellow men for the sake of their religion.

The anti-hero of Damascus Gate is a lapsed Catholic with a Jewish father and the book follows his attempt to find something to write about in a place where everyone else seems to be searching for some sort of Truth. It is pleasingly complex. Amid the confusion of NGOS, nationalities, religious groups, political sects and hippie nutters our man makes the large error of falling in love...She happens to be an ex-communist Sufi jazz singer named Sonia.

I am a straight to Hell do not pass go do not collect £200 kind of guy. Ask me what I believe in and I'll probably tell you about my prophetic dream that claimed Fulham would be the first side to win the FA Cup at the new Wembly. So why do I find this book so engrossing? Because other people believe similarly ridiculous things - but take themselves a little more seriously. You can't escape religious nuttery, so you might as well try to understand it. As usual I find fiction the best way to approach such a subject...


  1. Matthew forgot to mention that the once mighty Picador imprint has let Stone slip out of availability.

    I mean, who wants to read a novel about the middle east at a time like this?

  2. Outerbridge Reach is good too - about/based on Donald Crowhurst, also recently in the news.